TAMPA – Nikita Kucherov did not want to talk about reaching the 100-point plateau Thursday night.
His performance, though, raised the roof in a spirited 2-1 shootout victory over a desperate-for-points Buffalo team at Amalie Arena.
Kucherov scored the tying goal, got into a little skirmish in overtime and put the lid on the victory with his third-round shootout goal.
With 30 goals and 70 assists in 62 games, Kucherov became the fastest to reach the century mark since Mario Lemieux did so in 61 games in 1996-97.
“They came out hard,” Kucherov said of the Sabres after deflecting a question concerning his second straight 100-point season. “They are desperate for points. We like it when it’s competitive and every team (gives us 100 percent.) It is good for us to play every night against teams that do that.”
Trailing 1-0, Kucherov recorded his 100th point in pretty fashion when on a two-on-one he buried Tyler Johnson’s feed to tie the game at 11:10 of the second period.
“Kuch is a complete player,” said Johnson. “He battles, he competes. There is a reason why he is one of the best players. I love playing with him, love having him on my team. I think he’s even going to get better the way he is driven, competes and works.”
It looked like Kucherov would quickly add to his point total when two minutes after tying the game he took another Johnson feed and from the right circle unleashed a low wrister that hit the near post.
There would be more iron shots on this evening for Tampa Bay.
Less than 90 seconds after Kucherov’s goal it was Brayden Point’s turn to clank the post off the rush. During a third-period penalty kill Steven Stamkos put a backhander from the slot off the post with a little less than 13 minutes remaining.
When Tampa Bay was not hitting posts they were being snuffed out by Buffalo goaltender Carter Hutton, who stopped 39 of 40 shots.
There was plenty of action around Hutton in overtime. After making a save on Victor Hedman and robbing Kucherov on the rebound, Hutton looked on as the Lightning forward and Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who in the third period drilled Kucherov with a clean hit along the boards, got into a little scrap. Both players sat the remaining 1:26 of the extra session with roughing penalties.
The Lightning went first in the shootout and Stamkos beat Hutton. After Andrei Vasievskiy shut the door on Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt, Kucherov fittingly buried the decisive goal for the victory.
“He was dominant out there tonight,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper of Kucherov. “The kid wants to win and wears his emotions on his sleeve. He’s a remarkable player and he’s having an amazing season.”
The win stretched Tampa Bay’s points streak to 12 games (10-0-2) and it was their fifth straight win on home ice.
“I think we just stay on top of the little things and we play well defensively,” said Kucherov, who was shaken up a bit on the Ristolainen hit. “I think that is why we have success here. We haven’t given up many goals lately and that’s a good sign for a good team.”
Buffalo got on the board first when Rasmus Dahlin’s shot from above the left circle deflected off Ryan McDonagh’s right knee and the inside of the near post before settling behind Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning had scored first in six straight games and had outscored the opposition 17-2 in the opening period of the last 11 contests.
The Dahlin goal was the only goal Vasilevskiy, now 8-1-1 in his career against the Sabres, allowed. Eight minutes into the second period he came up big with a save on Jack Eichel that thwarted a two-on-one with Jeff Skinner to keep it a 1-0 game.
“You’re getting the other team’s best shot,” said Cooper. “We’re not getting their best shot because we’re ahead in the standings. We’re getting their best shot because all these teams are trying to make the playoffs. For our guys, it’s a testament to them and their consistency and their ability to pull out games.”
The Lightning have three days off before hosting Los Angeles on Monday night.